November 25, 2014

Drew Colors

snapp logoby Dan Snapp
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A River Runs Drew It

“The best day of my year was always the day after the season when we landed in Whitefish and I could feel myself exhale. Like the pressure was lifted off my shoulders – a physical feeling when we would get into Whitefish. I always looked forward to that day every year and it never let me down. The worst day of my year was always that last day of my summer. I would sit on the dock at my house on Whitefish Lake with my legs dangling in the water before I would fly back on the plane to training camp,” – Drew Bledsoe, from the “Drew Bledsoe and the Art of Football” interview in the inaugural issue of “The Whitefish Review” (http://www.whitefishreview.com/).

Well, there you have it. Mystery solved. Now we know.

Drew Bledsoe doesn’t like football.

Is that too strong a statement? OK, we’ll be fair. He likes football, but in more of a “I’ll show up when I want to show up, put in the requisite amount of work but never improve my game, take the blame publicly but let my surrogates point fingers elsewhere, and oh yeah, I’m your starting quarterback” kind of way.

Still too nasty? It’s hard to know the right tone with Bledsoe. I mean, you hate to bash what seems like a nice guy, and he did have a fairly decent career, what with the four Pro Bowls and the passing records and all. And man, that was a pretty cool moment when he stepped in for Tom Brady in the 2002 AFC Championship Game. But then you remember the rest of it.

Maybe we’re making too much of this. Maybe it’s just a benign comment in an otherwise banal interview, with Drew telling the local scribes, “I’m going to Whitefish” because he never got the chance to say, “I’m going to Disney World.”

But we know better, don’t we? It’s no secret he wasn’t as dedicated to the craft as, say, Brady is. “Off to Montana” was as much a Bledsoe cliché as “MINNESOTA GAME”. Bledsoe’s unguarded admission to the Whitefish Review only confirms what we already knew.

Resurgence and Fan Frenzy

This offseason, Bledsoe joined in retirement two other icons of the team’s 1990s resurgence: Bill Parcells and Curtis Martin. Overshadowed only by Robert Kraft’s Homeric efforts to keep the team cemented (literally) in New England, their efforts rejuvenated a franchise’s spirit, culminating in a Super Bowl appearance.

Bledsoe’s career got off to a rollicking start, what with thrilling comebacks his rookie season, and then record yardage in the sophomore one, leaving fans with visions of Marino dancing in their heads. In hindsight, the comparison wasn’t fair, but it stuck. So long as he was throwing a heap and amassing yardage, all other means of charting his play were blocked out. We thought he was better than he was.

Fans eventually struck upon a yearly mantra of “This will be the year he puts it all together”, and the needle got stuck. Different perceived obstacles to his development were manufactured in our heads: “He’s had a different coordinator each year”; “He never had a quarterback coach”; “The line let him down”. The excuses shifted to other positions in the post-Super Bowl years: “He misses Martin back there”; “He can’t count on Glenn”; and “He needs a dominant tight end to succeed”.

We never took the time to consider that any quarterback would flourish with the luxuries we deemed necessary for Bledsoe to succeed.

At the same time, Bledsoe cultivated a media-friendly image that was impervious to criticism. He was Boy Scout Drew with the Dad who “Parented with Dignity”. He jumped through all the proper media hoops. He was modest, self-effacing, and generous with praise to his teammates, whether they deserved it or not.

Those two forces – the perceived greatness and the Aw Shucks persona – generated a fan and media army ready to do battle whenever a threat to his mantle arose. So when a skinny sixth-rounder succeeded with the same parts reckoned defective under Bledsoe’s lead, the fandom split. Some just weren’t ready to trust their disbelieving eyes.

When Bill Belichick announced Brady would be starting the rest of the way in 2001, mouths dropped. Ron Borges was furious, and leapt off the cliff of reason at that very moment, never to be right about anything Patriots again.

“Some people learn from their mistakes,” Borges wrote that week. “Others are doomed to repeat them. If you wonder which is Bill Belichick, go ask people in Cleveland if they’ve ever heard the story of the guy who benched Bernie Kosar for Todd Philcox?”

“Brady would never have been sacked at all if his line didn’t stink and his receivers went where they’re supposed to,” Borges wrote a month later, venom and sarcasm dripping. “And his team would score on every possession if it would just listen to him. And who ever stepped up in the pocket better than Brady? It’s amazing his predecessor threw for more than 29,000 yards off his back foot all the time, isn’t it?”

Borges wasn’t alone. Bob Halloran, describing Brady as “incrediblyaverage” and likening him to “a sneeze guard at the salad bar”, proved we should never trust his football acumen again. Halloran even admitted he couldn’t enjoy the team’s success so long as Bledsoe wasn’t the guy leading it. Sadly, many shared the sentiment.

When Belichick dropped the second shoe, trading Bledsoe within the division, fans were apoplectic. Many suggested trading Bledsoe would be the Patriots’ Babe Ruth moment. One fan started constructing a weekly chart detailing the time Brady’s passes stayed aloft in comparison to Bledsoe’s.

Borges predicted doom. “Yesterday, Belichick bet it all on No. 12 and told the croupier, ‘Spin the wheel,’” he wrote. “He bet his coaching future on a guy who’s started 17 NFL games. As bets go, that’s how Las Vegas was built, although sometimes the house loses even there.”

In the gleam of the Patriots’ success, those voices are all muted now. The remaining doubters have converted, Bledsoe apologists like the Globe’s Nick Cafardo are no longer on the Patriots beat, and Borges is writing for the Kansas City Chiefs website. We also learned in hindsight that Bledsoe wasn’t exactly the good soldier as previously portrayed. Michael Holley’s and Pepper Johnson’s books told of a sourpuss Bledsoe in team meetings, and of his going behind Belichick’s back to Kraft’s office.

Bledsoe would never be seen in the same light. All the sediments he never pared from his game were now evident to all. He went from “The Next Marino” to “The Statue of Limitations”.

Grateful for What We’ve Got

It’s not Bledsoe’s fault the bloated expectations we built up for him. He never wanted to be a leader, memorably deferring that role to Bruce Armstrong when called upon to take the charge. He didn’t want the glory either, gladly passing that on to his teammates in his weekly conferences.

He did want the starting job, though, feeling his pedigree dictated it. He retired this year rather than face the ignominy of being a backup in any number of cities. Compare that to Vinny Testaverde, who at about the same age went to the Jets as a backup, and then had his best year ever. But that’s Bledsoe’s decision to make, and we can respect that. You have to love the game to want to be holding a clipboard at age 35.

His comments to the Whitefish Review aren’t all that shocking. After all, what players look forward to training camp? It’s the first part of the quote, though, that’s bothersome: “The best day of my year was always the day after the season.” What does this say about his seasons? That he expected them to end badly? He went to the Super Bowl twice, but the better day was the day after?

Seemingly every other player in the league longs just to get to the Super Bowl, and win or lose stores that day away in the photo album alongside their marriages and births of their children. Drew? He’s off thinking of the lake.

It certainly shed light on why he wasn’t going to last long under Belichick – Brady or no Brady. Belichick loves players who love football, really love football. And that just wasn’t Drew.

In the end, Bledsoe will be missed, just not for the reasons we may have projected for him on draft day 1993. Instead, he became the living, breathing embodiment of how great we’ve got it with Belichick. Every time Bledsoe held the ball too long in Buffalo, every time he threw deep into double coverage in Dallas, we had our tangible reminder of why Belichick’s the best at what he does.

Hopefully history will truly reflect just how ballsy a call Belichick made with Bledsoe, not once, but twice. To put it in Borges terms, the house lost, and only Belichick knew the dice were loaded.

This Monday, Michael Silver had a Bledsoe update on Yahoo.com:

“I’ve been sending the guys cell-phone photos, beginning with the first day of training camp,” he says. “The first was of my feet in a lake with a beer in my hand. There was a picture from a golf course, one from the boat when I was waterskiing and one when I was riding my motorcycle.”

There you have Bledsoe’s NFL legacy: all he really wanted was to be somewhere else.

Comments

  1. God forbid someone with kids enjoy when they can spend the most time with them!

  2. That’s it, if I could figure out how to lock this comments thread I would. Its one thing for somebody to try to slip fcuk through the filters (clever! The filter would never think to look for the ‘c’ there) but I am not going to permit ‘Daughtry’ references. Kids might be reading this – impressionable kids. Yet here we are, tossing around ‘Daughtry’s’ like we’re in a bar room. I’m no more ready for that than I am the V-word.

  3. I hadn’t intended the piece as a post-mortem on Bledsoe’s career. Nor did I think his comments to the Whitefish Review were some sort of “Gotcha!” moment. It was a casual remark about his love of the area. However, the terms he used – “best day of the year” and “worst day of the year” – seemed pretty concrete, and reflected a dispassion toward the game I’ve long suspected. It raised a flag, and I thought it was worth writing about.

    To play the game as long as he did, with the level of achievement he did, he had to have some level of fondness for the game. I don’t doubt that. I was examining if he had enough love of the game to be great.

    Moreover, I was commenting on the cult of personality that surrounds Bledsoe, to the degree that people will go above and beyond in defense of him, and today still. The debate still thrives.

    If you want a detailed post-mortem on his career, go here: http://www.coldhardfootballfacts.com/Article.php?Page=1088

  4. He got beat to a pulp over his 13 year career. Endured the toughest coach to play for not once, but twice. Even got his organs busted up and still came back again. Seems like a lot to go through for someone with a dispassion for the game.

  5. Box Score says:

    I still say the guy’s most distasteful trait is his insatiable love of his children!

  6. There are two Gregs here. I am NOT the Drew defender one!

  7. I think you bastards are being a little too tough on Tom Casale. I was reading a message board the other day and some guy named “I’mnotTomCasale” said, “Tom Casale is the greatest living football writer in America. You swine are lucky to have him”. Later I read a poster named “I’mnotTomCasaleeither” rave about him. “Casale is a football savant”. So this Benson fellow shouldnt go off half cocked. Though I’m not questioning his manhood either.

  8. Some where out there, our good friend Ron Borges and his old side-kick Nick Carfardo are in complete disagreement with this. Accoring to these two guys, when the Patriots traded Drew and decided to stay with some guy named Tom Brady, they informed all of us that the Patriots made a major mistake and kept the wrong guy. Ah, OK…………..

  9. Every year it was the same thing, the blame for Drew’s ineptness was blamed on the following: bad offensive line……….Ah Drew, your pancake syrup-like mobility made the best of offensive lines look bad. I’ll never forget the time in Buffalo when Drew took yet another sack after holding onto the ball for about 7 seconds, finally Reuben Brown couldn’t take it anymore after the sack, he looked over to his coach on the sidelines and went into a tirade and ripped his helmet off in disguest over Drew Sloth taking yet another sack. The excuses were endless. It was “Well if Drew had an all-pro tight end, Ron Yary and Orlando Pace at tackle and the 1982 Kellen Winslow and Jim Brown, you watch, he’ll do something, you just watch, he just needs the pieces around him.” What a joke, Tom Brady has been winning superbowls for the most part throwing to Division 3 wideouts. Give me a break Drew worshippers, wake up.

  10. As a loyal Patriots Fan for the past 20 years, I remember the down years of the late 80’s and early 90’s. I still watched every game and looked for something to get excited about. There wasn’t much, but I still thought Marv Cook was great and Leonard Russell/John Stephens were stars in the making. I even thought Tommy Hodson, Hugh Millen, and Scott Zolak could be good enough QB’s to help us win. It was my duty as a loyal fan to remain optimistic no matter what the cost. Watching losing season after losing season…there was always hope for next year. Finally when Bill Parcells and Bob Kraft arrived, things were looking up. Parcells wanted Drew Bledsoe over Rick Mirer and that is who we got. Bledsoe’s rookie year was better than the previous years and it brought some excitement. We actually had a QB that could make a difference in our offense. He accomplished a lot in his 2nd season and the team had a winning record for the first time in years. Finally people in New England were talking about the Pats in a good way again. The next few years saw more wins than the organization had seen in a while and pro-bowlers flourished. Bledsoe never won us a Super Bowl, but he was a part of the reason why fans believed in the Pats again. Curtis Martin, Ben Coates, Terry Glenn, Willie McGinest, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy…all of these guys brought Patriot pride back into New England. That is why I will always see Bledsoe as part of the success that put Pat’s fans back in the seats. Even if you didn’t like his style, we finally had a QB post-Steve Grogan who could make some big throws and win a game by himself. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady did take the Pats to a whole new level. However, in order to take a team to the next level, you need to start at some level…and they were granted a team already at a “good” level. Success breeds success and Bledsoe was a big reason for the success of the organization for a number of years. That is why I will always appreciate what Bledsoe did for the New England Patriots.

  11. You are what your record says you are, as D.C. Parcells once said. And not just yards passing or TD passes (or picks) but sacks/yard lost. And I have NO idea about how hard Bledsoe worked, or didn’t work, in the offseason.

    But starting with Game 3 of the 2001 season, Tom Brady inherited what had been a MORIBUND offense and a team that had lost 19 of its previous 26 starts, went 14-3 the rest of the way, and ran the table. (In the AFCCG, Brady was injured while the Pats held the lead.)

    I have never looked back.

  12. Box Score says:

    Will,

    That whole “However, in order to take a team to the next level, you need to start at some level…and they were granted a team already at a “good” level” thing ?

    Well, that’s pretty much the most absurd comment in the 60 that have been left about the post.

    Well done. I think you’re now eligible to win a signed Dave Megget sexual misconduct complaint at the next Patriots Daily raffle.

  13. The Patriots were 5-11 with Saint Drew in 2000. In fact their rush to mediocrity after the 96 Super Bowl season was pretty stunning, 10-6, 9-7, 8-8, 5-11, 0-2 with Drew in 01. Or should that be 0-1.5 since Huard came in after the Mo Lewis hit? To call the 01 Patriots a “good” team is a stretch coming off of that 5-11 season.

    The 01 Patriots is easily the most improbable Super Bowl winner. This team had some really good players and others that finally started living up to their potential (Willie). Rod Rutledge and Jermaine Wiggins were the TE’s and the WR core was stunningly average outside of Troy Brown.

  14. I agree with you both on the improbable 2001 victory and how we really didn’t have a “good” team following the 5-11 season in 1999-2000. I also agree that our team was declining at a pretty alarming rate under Pete Carroll. A young Tom Brady willing to do the little things at QB and a defense that was coming into its own under a defensive genious were the keys to revitalizing the team. In my original post I was referring to Bill Belichick taking over and changing our team from an offensive oriented team to a defensive team. Pete Carroll left New England after an 8-8 season in which the first half of the season we looked like a playoff team and the 2nd half we couldn’t buy a win. Because of the mounting mental errors and penalties that the team was making, Carroll was booted. Belichick was hurt by the Robert Edwards injury when he took over, but he wanted a more conservative offensive attack for Bledsoe. No more offensive weapons were drafted or brought in through free agency. The weapons we already had were either leaving or too old. It was Belichick who led the team to a 5-11 year while the team was transitioning. It was obvious that Bledsoe did not belong in the new system and that was very clear when a young QB was able to come in and be more successful immediately. The new short passing scheme and 3-step drops were not meant for a QB like Bledsoe. Not to mention the defense was awesome in 2000-2001…we were the only team that could stop St. Louis that year. As a result, Bledsoe was shipped off to Buffalo because Belichick knew his weaknesses…and soon everybody did. Maybe this post is more absurd than the last, but I didn’t want you to think that the 5-11 team was the “good” team I was referring to. And the 0-2 start was the exclamation point on Bledsoe’s career with the Patriots coming to an end.

  15. Bledsoe was a good quarterback for a bunch of years for the Patriots…nothing more and nothing less. He came along at a time when the fans were down and needed some excitement and Parcells and Bledsoe were the answer. Was he Tom Brady, no….was he Tony ‘turtle’ Eason, no….he was tough and played to win and tried to thread the needle too often resulting in a lot of interceptions….sounds alot like Grogan [who people either loved or hated during his playing days] but now is revered because he is retired….the thing I find odd is that people can’t just prefer Brady over Bledsoe…they have to CRUSH Bledsoe as if he was a bad quarterback [which he wasn’t]…he gave us alot of excitement when we needed it….why the venom? I’ll bet the same people stomping on Bledsoe probably do the same to Nomar who also gave us a lot of excitement before he lost his job….

  16. mjd, well said. I think alot of the venom is a result of Bledsoe-worshippers seeing Bledsoe in a different light than what he really was. We had people in the media and fans who didn’t want to accept Tom Brady as being great. After bashing these people over the head with 3 Super Bowl trophies, it finally sank in to most of these people.

    I still remember Drew’s fumble in the Pittsburgh playoff game, carrying ball like a loaf of bread, rolling out to the right and totally unaware of Mike Vrabel bearing down on him to strip the football and win the game for the Steelers in the final two minutes. It was classic Drew, just looking downfield without having any awareness of what was going on around him. The picks at the most critical times were countless, not to mention the sacks he took. People, please spare us the offensive line excuses and no RB excuses and all the other excuses that we’ve heard over the years. Look at the QB, remove the blinders.

    Here’s an incredible stat: Think about this for a minute. People often like to compare Bledsoe to being a poor man’s Marino (which is being quite kind). Dan Marino dropped back to pass 8358 times in his career, as slow-footed as Dan was, he was only sacked 270 times. Now compare that to Drew, who dropped back to pass 6717 times and was sacked (this is not a typo) 467 TIMES. This is almost twice the amount of sacks of Marino even with 1600 LESS passing attempts.

    Here’s another one for you. In his career, Marino threw 40% more TD passes than INTs (420 TD/252 INTS). Drew, get this one, 18% more TD passes than INTs (251 TD/205 INT). The ratios are mind-boggling.

    Fumbles in their careers, (Marino 110 in 8358 passing attempts), (Bledsoe 123 in 6717 passing attempts). You can do the math on that one.

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